[Transcript of interview with John Rutherford, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

Recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read.  We're at Brentwood Library today and the name of our presenter is John Rutherford.  Today is March the 12th, 2010, and John, can you tell us what you remember?

Yes, thank you.  My name is John Rutherford and I'd like to talk about what I call Winter Ice Culture. 

Since moving to Southwest Missouri in 1989, I've noticed one significant difference between here and Northwest Ohio, where I grew up: the winter ice culture.

I was born in 1962 in Fremont (which is in Sandusky County), Ohio, but I consider my hometown to be Elmore, which is in Ottawa County. I lived in the same house in Elmore for the first twenty-two years of my life. 

Elmore is only twelve miles from Lake Erie, so we sometimes experienced the Great Lakes effect on winter snowfall there.  Snow covered grass in our town was good for 4 to 6 weeks every winter, and like most kids, I got to snow sled an awful lot on the flood plains of Sugar Creek Golf Course.  Although we owned a traditional wooden sled with metal runners, I preferred a slick, flexible, plastic mat that was a blue color, and I think it was even called the genie, that curled in the front and it was really wonderful because it was really good for speedy downhill and long distance runs.  We all challenged each other to see how far we could actually slide down the hill and who could get closest to Sugar Creek itself. 

Nearly every winter the temperatures dipped low and remained below 32 degrees in January to freeze over virtually every stream and pond in Northwest Ohio.  That was great for us as we grew up for it meant one thing: ice skating.  My first pair of ice skates were purchased at Hellwig's Hardware Store.  Myron Hellwig bought used skates and then resold them as trial pairs for us kids to try out on the ice. 

My feet were pretty small I remember, and my parents had me try out a pair of white figure skates.  They fit, so they bought them for me.  Although they were, normally white skates were for girls, my parents were just glad that they didn't have to pay full price for a pair of ice skates that their kid might never use more than once.  Now Dad, he had ice skates.  Mom did not.  But Mom and Dad drove out with me and my brother Kevin out to Aldrich Pond, which had already frozen over that winter, and with my new ice skates, Mom and Dad helped me lace them up, and much to their surprise I stepped right on the ice and skated immediately. 

My older brother, Kevin, wasn't so fortunate.  He had a pair of used hockey skates, and they were so soft around the ankles that he could barely wobble around on the ice that first time around.  A year or two later when my feet were larger I put on a double pair of socks and tried my brother's used hockey skates, but I couldn't skate very well with them either.  But after that first winter Kevin and I had proven that we could skate on ice, and so from then on our parents brought our opportunity to us.  They bought us new ice skates whenever our feet outgrew the older pair. 

My interest in ice sports were greatly heightened because we could tune in our television in Elmore to Channel 9 in Windsor, Ontario.  While most people probably watched Hee Haw or Laurence Welk on Saturday nights, during the wintertime Channel 9 broadcast "Hockey Night in Canada", so my brother and I faithfully watched those "Hockey Night in Canada" games faithfully virtually every Saturday evening.  Hockey games have three twenty minute periods and two intermissions.   I remember during the first intermission one of the CBC announcers would interview one of the Montreal Canadiens players, like Guy LaFleur, Henri Richard, Ivan Cournyier, Jean Beliveau, or maybe even Frank or Peter Mahovlich.  And some of those players only spoke French, so they needed an English translator for everyone to understand them. 

Hockey fever burned strongly in us brothers and my parents allowed us to buy hockey sticks and a puck at a sporting goods store in Fremont.  We also bought a soft foam puck and softer blue and orange street hockey balls so that we could practice shooting at a 3 by 3 foot net in the basement of our house and also out in the driveway.  I also saved up some more money and bought Mylec hockey goalie pads so that I could practice being a goalie.  My brother marked a pink chalk outline on a 4x6 regulation goal size area on our cement block basement wall and then my brother shot the, either the soft hockey pucks or the street hockey balls, at the goal, and I'd try to catch or block them. 

One of my favorite memories of my youth was a rainstorm one January, probably in 1974 or 1975.  Unlike Southwest Missouri's winter rains, the rain that winter in Ohio never actually did any damage nor did it seep into the frozen ground for a while.  The soybean field right across Ohio Avenue from our house had a low spot near the street, and the frozen water pooled there and formed a terrific makeshift ice skating pond.  That was perfect for me, the guys in our neighborhood, and all of our school friends from all over the rest of town.  Each afternoon, after that pond had frozen over, we'd sit on the front porch of our house, lace up our skates, walk or skate down the driveway, step into the field, and off we'd go for an afternoon of hockey or ice skating each afternoon after school.  Our naturally created ice skating rink remained frozen for almost two weeks and it was great fun for us kids not having to have, bug our parents to take us to a pond to skate.

After my brother got his driver's license in '76 we also could ice skate and play pick up hockey games on the Portage River or out at Bergman's Pond which was along the Ohio Turnpike.  Everyone understood that if they wanted to ice skate or play ice hockey, then they are gonna' bring along a shovel to help clear the snow off the ice surface. 

One other Canadian sporting event caught my attention during those years.  On occasion in the winter we'd catch the Silver Broom Tournament which was the curling finals for the world's best teams.  I remember Bud Somerville's U.S. team competing and actually winning a championship one of those years, and I hoped someday to try out curling for myself. 

That opportunity came when I attended Bowling Green State University in 1984.  Much to my surprise, I learned that BGSU offered curling as a physical education course, and since the university required physical education credits, I immediately signed up for the Introduction to Curling course. 

I learned during that semester that curling is far more technical than I had originally believed. 

As one example, before even stepping on the ice, the instructor insisted that everyone in the curling class wore clean soled shoes.  I went one step further; I carried my Sunday shoes to the arena in a duffle bag and switched into my Sunday shoes after I entered the arena.  The curling arena even had floor mats for everyone to wipe their shoes a second time before they could even step on the ice.  Everyone really understood why clean shoes were the utmost importance.  If the ice surface had even a few dust particles, the gritty dirt on the ice would make the rocks move in crazy patterns or scar the ice's surface. 

If you've ever wondered how team members glide down the ice so easily, that's because of Glides.  Glides are very slick, Teflon-coated half-sandals which slipped over the toe of your shoe.  Some people even buy special shoes for curling. 

Another thing I learned is that the rocks, or stones, are 42 pounds of granite so no one tries to heft them off the ice very often.  Basically they just give the rocks a mighty shove down the ice, but before that shooters tip the rocks on their sides and use their brooms to sweep away any ice fragments or dirt particles off the edges and bottoms of the rocks.  Then, if you were the shooter, you swept away the dust particles on the ice sheet to the extreme edges of the ice sheet that was behind you and after your Skip, which was the team leader, or team captain, pointed out where you were to aim your stone, you grasped the handle on top the stone, shoved off, and started the rock sliding down the ice.  A counter clockwise turn made the stone move from left to right, rather a clockwise turn made the stone move from left to right, and a counterclockwise turn made the stone move from right to left. 

Perhaps the least known technical aspect of curling is that the ice sheet is not just a smooth sheet of ice, with circular targets.  Actually a mist of water is sprayed on the ice surface leaving a tiny pebble-like overlay on the ice for more friction.  These ice pebbles are what causes the rocks to curve, or curl.  The ice pebbles are also why teams sometimes sweep the ice so frantically.  In essence, they're trying to melt the ice pebbles so that the rock won't curve so much as it slides over the ice. 

After that semester I arranged for my close friends from Elmore and Toledo and Bowling Green to try out curling at BGSU.  Though six of the eight participants were new to the sport, we all had fun howling out "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" when the rock was curling too much or "Up Up! Up!" during those outings when the rock was actually moving too swiftly down the ice and was straying away from the button, the red center marker. 

I know that the Mediacom-Jordan Valley Ice Park has an ice arena and that's wonderful, but as an aside, I really hope that someday the Mediacom-Jordan Valley Ice Park staff will renovate their ice arena and put in a curling facility with eight to sixteen curling sheets and the appropriate equipment, like rocks and brooms and the shoe glides.  If this could be accomplished U.S. curling championships will include at least one competing team from Springfield, Missouri, and hopefully I'll be on it. 

One final thought, my world and my friendships revolved around the winter ice culture.  In 1986, as an example, though knowing nothing about hockey as a sport, a female friend who had taken many of the same classes I was taking while I was then at Middle Tennessee State University, she invited me to Nashville to watch a hockey game at her house.  By showing me the courage of a forechecking hockey forward, she favorably attracted my attention.  That person, Clara, I married several years later. 

The winter ice culture really captured my imagination when I was growing up and I still recall those memories so fondly.  That's my recollection of wintertime ice sports in Northwest Ohio.

[Transcript of interview with John Rutherford, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]